Picasso: The Blue Period and Comments on Working in Series

https://i0.wp.com/web.mit.edu/pacing/www/images/blue-nude.jpgMy apologies for the late post. Taught and lectured in California last night and went brain dead when I returned to the motel. However, tonight I lectured again on working in series which got my wheels turning. There are numerable quilt artist who work in series and whose work is known immediately upon viewing. On the other hand, there are far more quiltmakers who jump from image to image, style to style than those who do series work.

I began wondering if series work isn’t the way to development of style and discovery of voice. The concept of not trying to put every great idea you have in one quilt but instead to allow each piece to tell part of a story has great appeal to me. Along with that is the wonderful ideas that come for the next piece while working on the first. What would be the advantage to quiltmakers to follow this Path?

For my two cents, I think it would allow them to fully explore an image until they have processed all the images possible from the original concept. In my own work, I usually have two to three series going at a time and have discovered they feed on each other. However, as an instructor is series work something that I can teach? Can I convey the value of this traditional art concept to quiltmakers?

To illustrate series work of one kind Picasso’s Blue Period came to mind. While they are all very different images, I see them clearly as series work.

Picasso began to produce works that were suffused in blue. This particular pigment is effective in portraying sombre tones. It is generally believed that the death of Picasso’s friend Casagemao was the psychological trigger for the Blue Period. Who can really say what his intention was since he was still a teenager, living away from home for the first time and in poor living conditions.

What can be said is these are some of his most evocative images…..and what can be asked is would series work not be valuable for quilt artist.

Pablo Picasso
The Tragedy, 1903
Chester Dale Collection

What are your feelings on working in series? Do you consider it valuable for quiltmakers? Looking forward to your comments.

Cheers, Gabrielle



13 Responses to “Picasso: The Blue Period and Comments on Working in Series”

  1. 1 Reduce Love Handles February 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Interesting article. I’ll definitely be back. Thanks again, Paxton

  2. 2 Lyric February 18, 2008 at 8:27 am

    It just occurred to me that the doodles I’ve been shooting off in spare moments are turning into a series. I’m working through ideas of line and shape and playing with spirals here and there. I’d love to hear what you all think. Is the unifying idea of “line” enough or does a series need to actually look very similar to be called such? They are at http://www.LyricKinard.blogspot.com

  3. 3 Lyric February 18, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Working in a series is just another part of “doing the work”. It is extremely valuable to an artist to revisit an idea or a technique over and over again She works through ideas, builds skills, and can eventually find her voice.
    I don’t feel I’ve had enough time in the studio during my career to truly have that large body of work available. I have several series emerging but they are quite spread out. I keep taking time off to focus on my family. Big jumps in non-studio time while I’m caring for a baby and filling up sketchbooks and then when I get back there will be a totally different look to what I’m doing. I look forward to some intensive work on a few series once they are all in school.

  4. 4 Carole February 11, 2008 at 6:59 am

    I also work in series and have probably 5 going at any one time. Of course, that means that long stretches of time pass before I return to a series. I also work in different media–artquilts, collage, artist books (which are a mix of many things). I too find that I am working on several levels in the series. I explore the IDEA of the series –by that I mean the theme or content. I explore how the choice of media alters and informs the way I explore the Idea/Theme. And, above all, I am learning and learning and learning. I’m also willing to throw away the results of an experiment or transform it into materials used in another piece. Actually, sometimes, putting something into the trash can be so liberating–it’s like removing clutter in the studio.

  5. 5 June February 9, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Sometimes a series comes out of putting yourself in a very tight spot — whether limiting your fabrics, or your technique, or your primary intent or idea.

    In painting the 70 paintings over 52 days these last two months, I was faced with painting only what was around me or what I could dredge out of my imagination. And my imagination was in shock and not really functioning. So I started painting the most unattractive, least easy to paint scene imaginiable — it was a stuccoed trailer house (actually two trailers set side by side) which set way back from a frozen lawn through which weeds poked up, with various “wheeled vehicles” most not running, parked in the front yard. And oh yes, it had lumber leaning crazily against one unusable door and a bunch of broken lawn chairs helterskelter against the side of the trailers. Not preposessing. The scene’s only virtue was that it was right across from my front window, so I didn’t have to venture outside at 15 degrees F. and try to memorize its attributes.

    After I did that painting (with enormous internal whining and misgivings) I decided that painting what was outside the window could be done (not without pain, but it could be done.) And ultimately I found that by applying my personal “take” or emotional resonance to the scene, arrived at after some thought and circling and empathy for its presence, and by using the much maligned (by me) principles of design as well as using oils paints which could be redone to cover a multitude of sins, I began feeling comfortable with the process.

    By the end of the two months, I not only felt comfortable with it, but have come to see it as a leap for me into another realm of knowledge about my artistic and psychological interests, one which is going to carry me through at least one more set of intensive, limited, beastly set of images — another “series.” The beastlier the scene, the harder I work and the more I learn.

    And at some point, my imagination started working again and fed off the tedious and intense representational paintings. So part of my output consists of 19 abstract paintings, which are among the best I’ve ever done. And they came, generally at the end of the day, with such activities as trying to use up the remaining paint on my palette. Ultimately I put a word to the series and that pushed more abstracts into being painted, but they are all attached to those representational pieces in ways only I can begin to know.

    Thus I find working in series, in whatever way that comes about, to be almost magical in its transformation of my preconceptions.

    But that’s just me.

  6. 6 Sheila February 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve just finished the 4th in a series, a series started for, as June states “having a concept or idea and coming at it from as many directions as can be thought up.” It was a conscious effort to focus the creative chaos that so much stimulation can induce. I’m only on number 4 because I haven’t been that disciplined about it. I think I’d be a lot further along in my growth as a quilt artist if I didn’t continually succumb to distractions, running off on new tangents. On the other hand, all of my explorations, even the ones I felt were very off topic, ended up providing ideas and solutions to work within the series. I’m definitely doing this for my own edification, and if it produces something beyond that, it is a pleasant bonus.

    I’ve had what I suspect is a Freudian slip going on though, as I write and read the word “series” these last few days. I consistently write it or read it as “serious.” So does working in a series signal that an artist is serious about art?

    As for Picasso’s blue period, it brings back pleasant memories of seeing some of these works while on a college off-campus class in Washington D.C. I was supposed to be immersing myself in politics for the three weeks, but of course, we took in the tourist sites as well. I was totally taken with the National Gallery of Art, returning more than once and purchasing some prints of my favorites. I was familiar with the “weird” Picasso, but not the blue period one. I loved them. I should have know right then, art was in my future…

  7. 7 BJ February 9, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    So maybe series isn’t quite the right word–maybe it’s more of a shift from ‘I’ve learned a new technique, I’ve got to make a piece using it’ to ‘I have an idea that I want to explore, how do I go about it’?

    That’s what I recognize in my latest jump up to the next level of being an artist. Each piece I now make is usually a logical progression from a previous piece, a continuation of the same thought. It’s not about about ‘look at what I can do’, it’s about ‘listen to what I have to say.’

  8. 8 June February 9, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I have to agree with Olga’s take on Picasso,

    “Picasso, I don’t think was so much deliberately working in a series, but approaching ideas from similar directions, trying out development in that approach until it blossomed into the excitement of trying a different direction – for the same general ideas, or different ones.”

    at least in so far as my perception of my own series goes. I started as a quilter doing a bit of everything (and imitating, badly, a ton of artists.) But I discovered after a while, as a quilting artist, that working in series came naturally. I could never decide to do 96 pieces of a series (or 110 or 3). I simply see that some question or problem or idea is hanging alongside whatever I’m working with, asking for further illumination. So I illuminate that question; and in the process another often crops up.

    Curators love series because they hang nicely together. Teachers love series because it’s easier to talk about a student’s work when the continuity is obvious. But for the artist, an internal rationale for series ranges from pushing oneself beyond the comfort zone to exploring the unanswered questions to having a concept or idea and coming at it from as many directions as can be thought up.

    The rage for series is partly commercial and academic, but I think among quilt artists it’s become a mantra because so many newbies continuously join working in the medium that the oldies want to distinguish themselves somehow. And so “work in series” becomes a kind of top-down rule. But I don’t think that as a _rule_, it works. I think that as a _guide_, to help us push beyond the obvious it’s very useful. And I think that newbies, once beyond the excitement of being newly involved, might find the idea a guideline for stopping themselves from being distracted by new materials etc. That kind of distraction is sometimes a way not to take one’s art seriously.

    What I find for myself most interesting is working a series from a concept — an idea, a “meaning” if you will. I just finished a series of 19 paintings on the same subject matter, done over a period of time when I was highly immersed in thinking about the subject as it related to my life. The subject was a single word, “Portals.” My interest was in entering and exiting and being enticed by but rebuffed by and not finding one’s way to Openings — “Portals.” So my series have little to do with methodology or visual attributes; they have to do with thinkie stuff. And sometimes what I call a series doesn’t externally resemble the pieces within it. Only I would know that the pieces are all from the same impulse or notion or concept.

  9. 9 Sylvia February 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Working in a series is part of being an artist. Skipping from technique to technique, idea to idea, subject matter to subject matter, doesn’t allow full development. Working out the technical aspects, refining design elements–that all happens with practice.

    It’s a lot like standing at a crossroads with dozens of roads wandering off in all sorts of directions. I think you have to choose a path to walk down and do it with enthusiasm and commitment. The trick is to choose the one that most appeals to you, not the one that other people choose for you or you think you should.

    I’m still trying to figure out my path. I’m told my work is distinctive but I think I’m too close to it to see it clearly. Spending more time in series work would probably make it coalesce.

  10. 10 Lisa February 8, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Working in series can be extremely valuable. I just completed #96 in my Structures series – started in 2001.

    There are a lot of artists working with textiles that work in a series. I’m curating a show with work from 4 of these artists that will be shown at the Lux Center for the Arts in Lincoln Nebraska in April, 2008.

    I asked each of the artists to write a bit about why they work in a series and they’ve posted in on a blog we created for the show, distinctive directions. The article Pam pointed to above is one such article. (Pam is also one of the artists in the show)

    The main website is distinctive-directions.com/

  11. 11 Olga February 8, 2008 at 9:29 am

    I suppose to be nit-picking one could say that quiltmakers who make a different design of quilt each time are still working in a series: a series of quilts rather than say baskets. The question is whether those making the quilts are interested in expressing themselves through a coherent language, and that this is something to be developed perhaps with the help of series.

    Picasso I don’t think was so much deliberately working in a series, but approaching ideas from similar directions, trying out development in that approach until it blossomed into the excitement of trying a different direction – for the same general ideas, or different ones.

    I think that a distinction can be made between pursuing or exploring an artistic vision to build up a voice, and making work in series – the latter of which can occur within the former, such as in the work of Goya.

  12. 12 Beth Robinson February 8, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Of course series would be of use to artists who make quilts. Fabric is just another medium. I primarily work in mixed media and I can’t seem to keep focused long enough to do a series. Lately, I’ve been wanting to, primarily for the reasons you describe. We’ll see if I manage to pull it off or not.

  13. 13 PaMdora February 8, 2008 at 3:55 am

    You say ‘quiltmakers’ but it’s not clear what you mean by this. For me, what comes to mind when you use this term, is someone who is working on using the patterns of others to make quilts or using the traditions of quiltmakers, so it seems a difficult leap to get to the point trying to do a series which would based on original designs. However, if you talking about quiltmakers as people who are already trying to make their own original designs, then thinking about working in a series doesn’t seem such a far stretch.

    Here’s an interesting post by Deidre Adams about how Nancy Crow got her started on working in a series:

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